The focus for AMD’s AM4 platform is to span a wide range of performance and price points. We’ve had the launch of the Ryzen CPU family, featuring quad cores up to octa-cores with the new Zen microarchitecture, but AM4 was always designed to be a platform that merges CPUs and integrated graphics. We’re still waiting for the new Zen cores in products like Ryzen to find their way down into the desktop in the form of the Raven Ridge family, however those parts are going through the laptop stack first and will likely appear on the desktop either at the end of the year or in Q1 next year. Until then, users get to play with Bristol Ridge, originally released back in September 2016, but finally making its way to retail.

First the OEMs, Now Coming To Retail

Back in 2016, AMD released Bristol Ridge to OEMs only. These parts were the highest performing iteration of AMD’s Bulldozer design, using Excavator v2 cores on an AM4 motherboard and using DDR4.  We saw several systems from HP and others that used proprietary motherboard designs (as the major OEMs do) combined with these CPUs at entry level price points. For example, a base A12-9800 system with an R7 200-series graphics card was sold around $600 at Best Buy. Back at launch, Reddit user starlightmica saw this HP Pavilion 510-p127c in Costco:

$600 gets an A12-9800, 16GB of DDR4, a 1TB mechanical drive, an additional R7 2GB graphics card, 802.11ac WiFi, a DVDRW drive, and a smattering of USB ports.

Initially AMD's focus on this was more about B2B sales. AMD’s reasoning for going down the OEM only route was one of control and marketing, although one might suggest that by going OEM only, it allowed distributors to clear their stocks of the previous generation APUs before Ryzen hit the shelves.

Still, these were supposed to be the highest performing APUs that AMD has ever made, and users still wanted a piece of the action. If you were lucky, a part might pop up from a broken down system on eBay, but for everyone else, the question has always been when AMD would make them available through regular retail channels. The answer is today, with a worldwide launch alongside Ryzen 3. AMD states that the Bristol Ridge chips aren’t designed to be hyped up as the biggest thing, but fill in the stack of CPUs below $130, an area where AMD has had a lot of traction in the past, and still provide the best performance-per-dollar APU on the market.

The CPUs

The eight  APUs and three CPUs being launched f spans from a high-frequency A12 part to the A6, and they all build on the Bristol Ridge notebook parts that were launched in 2016. AMD essentially skipped the 6th Gen, Carrizo, for desktop as the Carrizo design was significantly mobile focused (for Carrizo we ended up with one CPU, the Athlon X4 845 (which we reviewed), with DDR3 support but no integrated graphics). Using the updated 28nm process from TSMC, AMD was able to tweak the microarchitecture and allow full on APUs for desktops using a similar design.

The table of 'as many specifications as we could get our hands on' is as follows:

AMD 7th Generation Bristol Ridge Processors
  Modules/
Threads
CPU Base /
 Turbo (MHz)
GPU GPU Base / 
Turbo (MHz)
TDP
A12-9800 2M / 4T 3800 / 4200 Radeon R7 800 / 1108 65W
A12-9800E 2M / 4T 3100 / 3800 Radeon R7 655 / 900 35W
A10-9700 2M / 4T 3500 / 3800 Radeon R7 720 / 1029 65W
A10-9700E 2M / 4T 3000 / 3500 Radeon R7 600 / 847 35W
A8-9600 2M / 4T 3100 / 3400 Radeon R7 655 / 900 65W
A6-9550 1M / 2T 3800 / 4000 Radeon R5 576 / 800 65W
A6-9500 1M / 2T 3500 / 3800 Radeon R5 720 / 1029 65W
A6-9500E 1M / 2T 3000 / 3400 Radeon R5 576 / 800 35W
Athlon X4 970 2M / 4T 3800 / 4000 - - 65W
Athlon X4 950 2M / 4T 3500 / 3800 - - 65W
Athlon X4 940 2M / 4T 3200 / 3600 - - 65W

AMD’s new entry-level processors will hit a maximum of 65W in their official thermal design power (TDP), with the launch offering a number of 65W and 35W parts. There was the potential to offer CPUs with a configurable TDP, as with previous APU generations, however much like the older parts that supported 65W/45W modes, it was seldom used, and chances are we will see system integrators stick with the default design power windows here. Also, the naming scheme: any 35W part now has an ‘E’ at the end of the processor name, allowing for easier identification.

Back when these CPUs were first launched, we were able to snag a few extra configuration specifications for each of the processors, including the number of streaming processors in each, base GPU frequencies, base Northbridge frequencies, and confirmation that all the APUs launched will support DDR4-2400 at JEDEC sub-timings.

The A12-9800 at the top of the stack is an interesting part on paper. If we do a direct comparison with the previous high-end AMD APUs, the A10-7890K, A10-7870K and A10-7860K, a lot of positives end up on the side of the A12.

AMD Comparison
  Ryzen 3 1200   A12-9800   A10-7890K A10-7870K A10-7860K   A10-9700
MSRP $109   ?   $165 $137 $117   ?
Platform Ryzen   Bristol   Kaveri Refresh   Bristol
uArch Zen   Excavator   Steamroller   Excavator 
Threads 4C / 4T   2M / 4T   2M / 4T   2M / 4T
CPU Base 3100   3800   4100 3900 3600   3500
CPU Turbo  3400   4200   4300 4100 4000   3800
IGP SPs -   512   512   384
GPU Turbo  -   1108   866 866 757   1029
TDP 65W   65W   95W 95W 65W   65W
L1-I Cache 4x64 KB   2x96 KB   2x96 KB   2x96 KB
L1-D Cache 4x32 KB   4x32 KB   4x16 KB   4x32 KB
L2 Cache 4x512 KB   2x1 MB   2x2 MB   2x1 MB
L3 Cache 8 MB   -   - - -   -
DDR Support DDR4-2667
DDR4-2400
  DDR4-2400   DDR3-2133   DDR4-2400
PCIe 3.0 x16   x8   x16 x16 x16   x8
Chipsets B350
A320
X/B/A300
  B350
A320
X/B/A300
  A88X
A78
A68H
  B350
A320
X/B/A300

The frequency of the A12-9800 gives it a greater dynamic range than the A10-7870K (having 3.8-4.2 GHz, rather than 3.9-4.1), but with the Excavator v2 microarchitecture, improved L1 cache, AVX 2.0 support and a much higher integrated graphics frequency (1108 MHz vs. 866 MHz) while also coming in at 30W less TDP. The 30W TDP jump is the most surprising – we’re essentially getting better than the previous A10-class performance at a lower power, which is most likely why they started naming the best APU in the stack an ‘A12’. Basically, the A12-9800 APU will be an extremely interesting one to review given the smaller L2 cache but faster graphics and DDR4 memory.

One thing users will notice is the PCIe support: these Bristol Ridge APUs only have PCIe 3.0 x8 for graphics. This means that most X370 motherboards that have two GPU slots will leave the second slot useless. AMD suggests moving to B350 instead, which only allows one add-in card.

The Integrated GPU

For the A-series parts, integrated graphics is the name of the game. AMD configures the integrated graphics in terms of Compute Units (CUs), with each CU having 64 streaming processors (SPs) using GCN 1.3 (aka GCN 3.0) architecture, the same architecture as found in AMD’s R9 Fury line of GPUs. The lowest processor in the stack, the A6-9500E, will have four CUs for 256 SPs, and the A12 APUs will have eight CUs, for 512 SPs. The other processors will have six CUs for 384 SPs, and in each circumstance the higher TDP processor typically has the higher base and turbo frequency.

AMD 7th Generation Bristol Ridge Processors
  GPU GPU SPs GPU Base GPU Turbo TDP NB Freq
A12-9800 Radeon R7 512 800 1108 65W 1400
A12-9800E Radeon R7 512 655 900 35W 1300
A10-9700 Radeon R7 384 720 1029 65W 1400
A10-9700E Radeon R7 384 600 847 35W 1300
A8-9600 Radeon R7 384 655 900 65W 1300
A6-9550 Radeon R5 384 576 800 65W 1400?
A6-9500 Radeon R5 384 720 1029 65W 1400
A6-9500E Radeon R5 256 576 800 35W 1300
Athlon X4 970 - - - - 65W 1400?
Athlon X4 950 - - - - 65W 1400
Athlon X4 940 - - - - 65W ?

The new top frequency, 1108 MHz, for the A12-9800 is an interesting element in the discussion. Compared to the previous A10-7890K, we have a +28% increase in raw GPU frequency with the same number of streaming processors, but a lower TDP. This means one of two things – either the 1108 MHz frequency mode is a rare turbo state as the TDP has to be shared between the CPU and APU, or the silicon is sufficient enough to maintain a 28% higher frequency with ease. Obviously, based on the overclocking results seen previously, it might be interesting to see how the GPU might change in frequency without a TDP barrier and with sufficient cooling. For comparison, when we tested the A10-7890K in Grand Theft Auto at a 1280x720 resolution and low-quality settings, we saw an average 55.20 FPS.

Grand Theft Auto V on Integrated Graphics

Bearing in mind the change in the cache configuration moving to Bristol Ridge, moving from a 4 MB L2 to a 2 MB L2 but increasing the DRAM compatibility from DDR3-2133 to DDR4-2400, that value should move positive, and distinctly the most cost effective part for gaming.

Each of these processors supports the following display modes:

- DVI, 1920x1200 at 60 Hz
- DisplayPort 1.2a, 4096x2160 at 60 Hz (FreeSync supported)
- HDMI 2.0, 4096x2160 at 60 Hz
- eDP, 2560x1600 at 60 Hz

Technically the processor will support three displays, with any mix of the above. Analog video via VGA can be supported by a DP-to-VGA converter chip on the motherboard or via an external dongle.

For codec support, Bristol Ridge can do the following (natively unless specified):

- MPEG2 Main Profile at High Level (IDCT/VLD)
- MPEG4 Part 2 Advanced Simple Profile at Level 5
- MJPEG 1080p at 60 FPS
- VC1 Simple and Main Profile at High Level (VLD), Advanced Profile at Level 3 (VLD)
- H.264 Constrained Baseline/Main/High/Stereo High Profile at Level 5.2
- HEVC 8-bit Main Profile Decode Only at Level 5.2
- VP9 decode is a hybrid solution via the driver, using CPU and GPU

AMD still continues to support HSA and the arrangement between the Excavator v2 modules in Bristol Ridge and the GCN graphics inside is no different – we still get Full 1.0 specification support. With the added performance, AMD is claiming equal scores for the A12-9800 on PCMark 8 Home with OpenCL acceleration as a Core i5-6500 ($192 tray price), and the A12-9800E is listed as a 17% increase in performance over the i5-6500T. With synthetic gaming benchmarks, AMD is claiming 90-100% better performance for the A12 over the i5 competition.

Performance Preview

Back when Bristol Ridge first launched to OEMs, several users managed to benchmark the processors to get some data. We cannot confirm these results, but it paints an interesting picture.

NAMEGT, a South Korean overclocker with ties to ASUS, has pushed the A12-9800 APU to 4.8 GHz by adjusting the multiplier. To do this, he used an early ASUS AM4 motherboard and AMD’s 125W Wraith air cooler.


Credit: NAMEGT and HWBot

NAMEGT ran this setup on multi-threaded Cinebench 11.5 and Cinebench 15, scoring 4.77 and 380 respectively for a 4.8 GHz overclock. If we compare this to our Bench database results, we see the following:

Cinebench 11.5 - Multi-Threaded

For Cinebench 15, this overclocked score puts the A12-9800 above the Haswell Core i3-4360 and the older AMD FX-4350, but below the Skylake i3-6100TE. The Athlon X4 845 at stock frequencies scored 314 while running at 3.5 GHz, which would suggest that a stock A12-9800 at 3.8 GHz would fall around the 340 mark.

Cinebench R15 - Multi-Threaded

A preview by Korean website Bodnara, using the A12-9800 in a GIGABYTE motherboard, scored 334 for a stock Cinebench 15 multithreaded test and 96 for the single threaded test.

Cinebench R15 - Single Threaded

When we previously tested the Excavator architecture for desktop on the 65W Athlon X4 845, overclocking was a nightmare, with stability being a large issue. At the time, we suspected that due to the core design being focused towards 15W, moving beyond 65W was perhaps a bit of a stretch for the design at hand. This time around, as we reported before, Bristol Ridge is using an updated 28nm process over Carrizo, which may have a hand in this.

Price

Prices were not disclosed at the time of writing, although all the chips should be in the $50-$110 range. Certain models will be shipped with AMD’s 65W and 95W near-silent coolers, as we saw on the Kaveri refresh CPUs early last year.

AMD’s main competition in this space will be Intel’s Kaby Lake Pentium and Celeron lines, with AMD pushing the integrated graphics performance being on a much higher level. Intel would counter with a stronger single-thread performance in more office type workloads.

AMD is planning to launch Raven Ridge for desktops sometime at the end of the year or Q1, after the laptop launch. These processors fill in that hole for the time being, although we’re all ready to experience Zen in an APU.

Some parts of this news were posted when Bristol Ridge originally launched. We're still waiting on some of the processor specifications and will update when we get them.

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  • nathanddrews - Thursday, July 27, 2017 - link

    I understand why they did it, but it's still disappointing. Six months ago, I would have jumped on an A12 build for a cheap IGP/APU gaming/entertainment machine for the kids, but now with Raven Ridge so close... I do love that it's compatible with FreeSync though. Reply
  • MajGenRelativity - Thursday, July 27, 2017 - link

    You are correct that Raven Ridge does appear to be limiting this. Still, there is a market of people who need something cheap, and don't want to wait, because they don't need the greater performance of Raven Ridge. Reply
  • ddriver - Thursday, July 27, 2017 - link

    Zen APUs are still half a year away, maybe more. Some APU options for AM4 is better than none for that period of time. Reply
  • MajGenRelativity - Thursday, July 27, 2017 - link

    Agreed Reply
  • MonkeyPaw - Thursday, July 27, 2017 - link

    Cheap cost of entry, I suppose, allowing a user to get started and then have pleanty of headroom with upgrades. Many OEMs won't mind what this product offers either. Cheap builds, but decent performance. Reply
  • bill.rookard - Thursday, July 27, 2017 - link

    I'm a bit disappointed as well. While I do understand the need to clear out older stock and such, this still smacks of something Intel would do. Oh - they DID (ie: KBL-X). I am anxiously awaiting some simple ITX AM4 boards, and the Zen based APU. My Kodi box could use a bit of an upgrade.

    While these probably wouldn't be bad at all for a Kodi box (in fact they might be overkill), I would rather just get the part I -want- vs a stop-gap.
    Reply
  • MajGenRelativity - Thursday, July 27, 2017 - link

    I'd like to see reviews, but I'm cautiously optimistic about this being a challenger to Intel's Pentiums and i3s. Reply
  • MajGenRelativity - Thursday, July 27, 2017 - link

    Ian, can you confirm that the Ryzen 1200 only has 8 PCIe lanes? I'm seeing elsewhere that it has 16, like the rest of the Ryzens Reply
  • Ian Cutress - Thursday, July 27, 2017 - link

    That's a copy paste typo. It has 16 :) Reply
  • MajGenRelativity - Thursday, July 27, 2017 - link

    Thank you good sir! The chart's not showing as updated for me, but I'm sure that will change soon. Reply

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